Fred Clements Biography

This piece of Skegness’ social history was written in 1972 by an unknown writer who quoted liberally from the records of Jack Clements, for many years well known in Skegness as a singer, producer and manager. When the article was written Jack was 89, living at West Worthing and it was hoped he could be persuaded to attend the official opening of the new Arts Centre at Arcadia that September:

Such was the magic of the Clements family led by the genial, portly Fred, that after 36 years they and Arcadia are still, in their way, synonymous terms. Many Lincolnshire people over 40 will have a happy childhood recollection of them and their artists for they were all so full of enthusiasm and joie de vivre.

Indeed, as I write, I vividly remember that charming father-figure, clad in full evening dress, smiling his welcome
to the guests patronising the evening performance at the theatre.
I was reminded of those faraway years when Mr Dick Scupholm was telling me about the acquisition of Arcadia as an Arts Centre and the changes they proposed to make in the future. And it gladdened my heart when it suddenly occurred to me how delighted Fred would be if he only knew his favourite old haunt had been rescued from what, at one time, looked like demolition.
So, aided by Jack Clements, now 89, and living at Worthing, and as a gesture to a revered family I am going to tell you something about them and recall a few of the famous artists who have topped the bill both during and after their long reign as impressarios.
How it began
The story begins in 1900 when the male Clements were all working for the old GNR at Kings Cross. Fred was in the accountants department and Jack in the engineers and about this time Fred and his office colleagues started an amateur pierrot party entertaining at railway clubs.
Meantime, the railway were trying to popularise Skegness by offering 3s excursions each Sunday but they didn’t “catch on”. But Fred, who had access to figures, saw that thousands of people from Nottingham, Leicester and Derby and other
midland towns were flocking there and he, therefore, thought he would try a show and see how it went. Following a request to the council he obtained a site on the sands near the Clock Tower.
A stage and dressing room were constructed and on Whit Saturday 1902, he was in business with a comic singer, middle soprano and a pianist. Fred and Jack also sang. Nobody seemed to notice them and just walked past to Billy Marsh’s Niggers Show. They were a flop.

To make matters worse, the weather was bad. They were able to present only four shows and the brothers left Skegness sadder and wiser men. They contemplated cutting their losses and staying with the railway but, by chance, they met a friend Charles Coverdale who was a successful music hall comedian and told him about their cast and the unhappy results.

“All wrong,” said Charles. “What you want” he said, “is a company of good looking young men to attract the girls from the Nottingham lace factories.”

Fred found new hope and tried again on the suggested lines. His latest cast incidentally included a real pin-up, Frank Rainbow, of Boston, who was not particularly clever, but stood 6ft 2ins, had great personality, wavy hair and a wonderful smile. “How the girls fell for him” writes Jack. He had only about three songs, “I love daddy, my daddy, he’s ma’s mate” and two other maudlin efforts of a similar kind. But nobody laughed because it was Frank Rainbow. Success had arrived.

Impersonations

For reasons outside Fred’s control, the council refused to allow a renewal of the site and he was forced to move just past the Pier and beyond the end of the road, just through some rough scrub that was formerly known as ‘The jungle.”

With his new ideas, the summer of 1902 proved to be a very good year for Fred who developed talent as a sort of Danny la Rue character and it was while he was working in the music halls, that he met his future wife, Mabel Hind. Strangely enough he impersonated women and she was a male impersonator known as Nottiingham’s own Vesta Tilley.

At the end of the 1903 season Jack Clements’ records show that they were told that the next summer show would have to be still further from the pier. As there was no road at this point Fred made a pathway ofsleepers from the pier toHappy Valley to save patrons the inconvenience of having to trudge through the sand. It stayed on this site, war years excepted, until 1930.

The Lawn Cinema

When Clements first went to the resort in 1902, Hildreds Hotel had a lawn running from the hotel down beside the church at the other end, which was illuminated with fairy lights. Chairs were placed under the trees and customers were entertained informally by a pianist and a couple of vocalists. Fred saw the possibilities of this site for evening shows because it was obviously less cold than on the unsheltered foreshore.

Permission was obtained and he erected a stage and a large canvas roof to cover the audience. In 1906 Clements extended their entertainments to Mablethorpe where they used the Victoria Pavilion and the Sutton-on-Sea Drill Hall. The Mablethorpe enterprise lasted for a number of years, but Sutton was never a good proposition and was soon allowed to lapse.

(Fred Clements is pictured sitting between the ladies in our photograph below.)

About 1911 Hildreds Hotel decided that they wanted a “picture house” on the lawn so Fred bought a piece of land from Lord Scarbrough on Drummond Road and Arcadia Theatre and Lodge came into being. The builders incidentally were Turners of Wainfleet.

For some years afterwards, Fred, as lessee of the Lawn Cinema and as the showman of Arcadia, ran both concerns, but eventually Bass’s the owners of the cinema decided not to renew his contract which passed into the hands of De Mond.

Undaunted

But undaunted, Mr Clements purchased from Lord Scarbrough a first class site near the Clock Tower on which arose the Tower Cinema. Looking to the future, he built it as a theatre and used the dressing rooms as his offices and each winter prepared no fewer than six pantomimes to send to different parts of the country. His main theatre stores were under Victoria Station at Nottingham.

In the period between the wars, many artists who subsequently became known nationally, appeared at the Arcadia. There was pianist Mai Jones (who presented radio’s Welsh Rarebit), Harry Secombe and Terry Kendall, whose daughter Kay used to sit with the youngsters in the front row. Years later she played the leading role in “Genevieve” and was married to Rex Harrison.

Other well remembered artists, some of whom entertained at Skegness for years, were : Mabel Kempton, Donald Keir, Arthur Rawson, Harry Clark, Shirley Ganney, Ted Rose, Fred Hutchings, Wally Young, Lawrie Howard, Douglas Leonard, Jack Clements, Jan Ramsden, Alex John, Mabel Hind, Charles Hayes, Ted Cartwright, Bernard Bedford, Terry and Doric Kendall, Norah Glennon, Pearl Abbott, Ruby Abbott, Molly Fiona Leigh, Charles Mitchell, Beatrice Richards, Rob Currie, Victor Leopold, Jimmy Loft, Ida Norton, George Barnes, Gordan Webstet, Charles Harvard, Gyn Dowell and Carlos Ames.

Elizabeth Allan

Then Elizabeth Allan, daughter of Dr Allan, Fred’s friend and neighbour, had an urge to go on the stage following her many childhood visits to Arcadia. The doctor sought his advice, and Fred got in touch with his London agent. The result was that in a very short time Miss Allan was appearing with Herbert Marshall and Edna Best at the Savoy Theatre, London, and as is generally known, she quickly became a film star. Skegness was so proud of her that they named their pleasure steamer the “Elizabeth Allan” and she also opened Butlin’s first holiday camp at Ingoldmells.

Each winter, meantime, Fred Clements pantomimes were gaining more and more popularity, and George Black of the Palladium, went to Sheffield to see his “Dick Whittington”. He was so impressed that he asked Fred to produce Pantos at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham. Jack managed them and successful productions were staged there in 1932, 1933 and 1934.

Fred’s hey-day

In the latter year Arcadia recruited a new producer Harry Bright, who, according to Jack, put on the best show ever. It was a sensation and George Black brought Tom Arnold down to see it.

This period was Fred’s hey day, and how he enjoyed standing outside the door of his theatre talking to his patrons! But in 1935, he had a wonderful offer for the theatre and as he felt he had had enough, he sold out. For a time, however, he held on to his pantomimes which brother Jack produced for him, and the last was at the Empire, Sheffield, with Tessie O’Shea at the top of the bill.

Jack’s reminiscences conclude rather sadly

This is what he says: “Fred owed a great deal to his devoted secretary. Lily Matz who managed the staff, booked all the pictures for the Tower, made up all the returns of takings from both places and worked long hours. She was with him for 18 years and still lives in Skegness, as also does Fred’s only daughter, Mrs Dorothy Smith.

“As I look back on Fred’s successful career in Skegness I have thought: Was it just a coincidence, or was it fate, that our father and mother spent their honeymoon in Skegness? Fred was their eldest son and was buried in St Clement’s churchyard in November, 1941, at the age of 66 years.”

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